As one of only three Black people in her high school, Kenyan exchange student Sharon Shaban’s experience hasn’t always been easy, but she says the kind people she’s met along the way have made it easier (KCAW/Tash Kimmell)

In honor of Black History Month, KCAW’s Tash Kimmell spoke with Black Sitkans over the last couple weeks to better understand what the Black experience looks like in a small Alaska Town. For the fifth and final installment of Black in Sitka, she spoke with Kenyan exchange student, Sharon Shaban. Listen below:

My name is Sharon Shaban. I’m an exchange student, from Kenya, the coast part of Kenya. I am in Sitka High in 11th grade.

Have you ever been to the States before? 

No, this is my first time. It was hard to like, think “I’m going to leave everything, and I’ll be traveling on my own,” and stuff. But it’s fun. Like, I get to see everyone and people are so welcoming and so kind. 

 Is this like an exchange program? Or tell me how you were selected to come?

Actually it was just, my friend got a link. And she was like, “Oh, you want to try this out? It’s about exchange and stuff. You get to go to the U.S for some time.” And I’m like, “Okay!” I tried it as a joke, and then I got an a notification on my email, with forms I’m supposed to fill in. And I was like, oh, this was something serious. 

Did you know anything about Alaska? Or had you heard about what Alaska was like before you came here?

Not really. I just watched some kids shows. And, you know, when something happens, and they have to get to Alaska, it’s so freezing cold. That’s the only thing that I knew. Yeah. I actually didn’t think it was part of the US.

Obviously we don’t have a big Black population in Sitka. Is that something that you noticed when you got here?

Oh yeah, I thought it would be worse actually.

Did you think you’d be the only one?

Yeah, it was kind of scary. But then, yeah, we’re like three of us in school.

Three exchange students or just three Black people?

Three Black people in school.

Oh wow, that’s not many. What has it been like being in a predominantly white community?

Well, sometimes some people really are not that kind to you. And then you like, you sort of understand the way they think about you. Sometimes it’s frustrating when someone is treating you and looking at you in a weird way. But then you kind of get used to it and you tolerate them, because there’s nothing you can do about it.

Being an American, like being a Black person in America, you think about your identity as a Black person a lot. It’s very political. And so I just wonder if that’s something you thought about in Kenya, or like now, coming to the US, have, you had to kind of like, think about your Blackness more?

Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes, I look at myself, but then, you know, when you see other people from other countries, and I’m like, “Okay, if this person is surviving, well, I can also survive.” But then even if they’re from other countries, most of them are not as dark as me. So I’m like, “Okay, I will get used to this.” 

If you were explaining what it’s like to be a Kenyan and Sitka or Black and Alaska to your like schoolmates. In Kenya, what would you say?

I’ll say that you might not like everything that people say. You might not understand what people say, at some point. But then, when you get to know the people better, you get used to it. And sometimes you feel like you’re part of them. Even if you look different. Yeah, some of them are just so kind. And then if, if something is so hard, you just like, you think positive. That’s actually something I have been working on– thinking positive. And like, even if it doesn’t go as it was supposed to go, just know that something good is coming.